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Falcons hope spacing out Michael Turner’s work leaves more late

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons rushes upfield against Roy Miller #90 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on January 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff made Michael Turner his big-ticket signing in 2008, in part to give rookie quarterback Matt Ryan a chance to ease into life as a starter with a solid running game behind him.

Now, they may want to ease back on the work Turner’s doing, in hopes of giving him a chance to have something left late in the season.

“Michael has been our workhorse for a few years,” Falcons running backs coach Gerald Brown told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We discussed the possibility of making sure that we monitor his reps so that he can stay strong for us through the season and into December. We feel very good about Jason Snelling and Jacquizz [Rodgers], too.

“This year [Rodgers] is going through the offseason and that is going to help him. Snell is a veteran. He’s been there. When Michael is not in there, we feel comfortable with those guys being able to carry the load in both the run and the pass game.”

The 30-year-old Turner is getting to the age when many runners fall off, and his aggressive workload isn’t going to help his longevity.

Turner’s carried the ball more than 300 times in three of his four Falcons seasons (with the lone exception 2009, when he missed five full games and parts of two others with a high ankle sprain and still had 178 attempts).

The last two years are a good example of what the Falcons would like to avoid.

Turner averaged 5.57 yards per carry in September. By December, that number dropped to 3.38 per carry. In 2010, he dropped from 4.88 yards per carry in October to 3.51 per carry in December.

And in the Falcons’ three playoff games he’s participated in (all losses), he’s carried the ball a combined 43 times for 122 yards (2.84 yards per carry).

Snelling’s a functional backup, but if they’re serious about cutting into Turner’s workload, they’re going to need Rodgers to show more than he’s shown so far.

If not, Turner’s late-season fades and the team’s as a whole could continue.